9.1 General context
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Young people's participation in decision-making in Austria (Beteiligung als Recht) is grounded in legal and political frameworks. These include the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Austrian Federal Constitution on the Rights of Children (Österreichische Bundesverfassung über die Rechte der Kinder), the EU Youth Strategy, the Austrian Youth Strategy (Österreichische Jugendstrategie), and laws on school co-determination, etc.
Furthermore, Austria considers children and young people's participation in political decisions as a cross-cutting issue (Beteiligungsfelder). It starts with their immediate living environment and offers numerous opportunities for youth participation in logal, regional, national, European, and global youth politics (see chapter 5.4).
The National Working Group on Youth Dialogue and Youth Participation (nationale Arbeitsgruppe Jugenddialog und Jugendbeteiligung), which was merged in 2020, is dedicated to promoting youth dialogue and youth participation in Austria.
When it comes to youth participation and global themes, sustainable development and environmental protection is one of Austria's most important themes for youth and youth organisations.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations form the reference framework for Austrian development policy. Since 2016, all federal ministries have been entrusted with the coherent implementation of the "Agenda 2030". The areas of responsibility of the departments form cross-cutting issues that usually cannot be assigned to just one development goal. The Family and Youth Section of the Federal Chancellery (Sektion VI – Familie und Jugend) is responsible for 8 of the 17 SDGs and understands the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a global orientation framework for the ongoing optimisation of Austrian family and youth policy (Sustainable Development Goals für Jugendthemen). In this context, the identification of children and young people in Austria with the 2030 Agenda and their political participation is central to achieving the development goals.
Education is crucial for promoting youth cooperation and political participation in Austria, aligning with the 2030 Agenda (Agenda 2030 im Bildungsbereich). The Austrian education system plays a vital role in preparing young people for a sustainable and responsible world society. Educational concepts (Bildungskonzepte Agenda 2030) like 'Education for Sustainable Development' (Bildung für Nachhaltige Entwicklung) and 'Global Citizenship Education,' (Globales Lernen/Global Citizenship Education) along with teaching principles and concerns (see chapter 9.4), foster sustainability in all its dimensions. The learning process aims to develop knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes, enabling young people to address local and global social, economic, and environmental challenges actively. Education enhances awareness of complex global issues and fosters critical reflection, systemic thinking, and future-oriented action.
The 'Environmental Education Forum' ("Forum Umweltbildung") contributes to the promotion of education for sustainable development and environmental awareness among young people through its extensive educational work. In cooperation with interdisciplinary teams and through cooperation with experts from educational organizations, administration, NGOS, extracurricular youth education institutions and the media, innovative and qualitative projects (Projekte) on environmental issues or the global sustainability goals are created.
Environmental protection and global justice are central concerns of young people in Austria. This is particularly evident in the large-scale bottom-up youth movement "Fridays for Future" (Fridays for Future Austria), which unites young people from all over the world across national borders to advocate for sustainable policies.
Young people in Austria use voluntary engagement as a form of political participation. According to the 2nd Austrian Volunteer Report (2. Freiwilligenbericht, 2015) 22% of Austrian youth volunteer in the field of environmental, nature and animal protection. Youth participation in climate and environmental protection is carried out by numerous environmental organisations and youth movements that work to achieve climate protection goals, protect biodiversity in flora and fauna, preserve nature and habitats and much more. The possibilities for active youth participation range from projects and joint events to holiday camps and internships, etc. (see chapter 9.5). Volunteering therefore has an important educational role to play.
The independent Austrian 'youth environment platform' ("Jugend Umweltplattform JUMP") offers young adults a variety of opportunities for participation, capacity building and personal orientation in the field of environment and sustainability as well as training and education on a long, medium and short-term basis of support for projects. In addition, young people can also take part in a 'voluntary environmental year’ ("Freiwilliges Umweltjahr") (see chapter 9.5).
Young people's environmental awareness is evident through their active engagement in projects and associations promoting sustainable lifestyles and environmental protection. Current studies also examine Austrian youth's attitudes towards global issues.
The Europe-wide Youth Survey 2021 (Europaweite Befragung: Länderbericht Österreich 2021) shows that the climate crisis (55%), followed by environmental degradation (44%), are seen as the greatest global challenges by 15-35-year olds in Austria. More than 70% of the respondents blame the prevailing consumption habits and the unequal distribution of resources in our economic system. For 83% of the study participants, advocacy for climate protection is an important political concern when voting. However, 73% state that they feel let down by politics in this regard and that politicians are setting the wrong priorities.
The SOS Children's Villages Youth Survey 2020 (SOS-Kinderdorf Jugendstudie 2020) by the Institute for Youth Culture Research (Institut für Jugendkulturforschung) also found that more than 70% of the 11-18-year olds surveyed are primarily concerned about climate change and pollution when they think about their future, and 88% of them believe that only immediate action can remedy the situation. These are key issues for young people, whether they live in urban or rural areas, and regardless of the type of school or education they attend.